6 Steps to Creating Alignment on Your Team: Step 1—Look Outside

Most teams are too disconnected from the outside world to know what they should be doing.

This is the first in a six-part series on enhancing team effectiveness through better alignment. I’ll take you from the very beginning to a full set of team rules of engagement, with a lot of practical advice along the way.

When I start working with a team, the first series of questions I ask is about the external environment: How is it changing, and how might those changes impact the team? My goal is to understand what value the organization needs this team to add.

It’s often surprisingly difficult for team members to answer questions about the outside world. When I ask about the opportunities or threats facing the organization or the industry, I’ll get answers that are really about issues within the team: “We have a big opportunity if we could just sell more effectively,” or “The loss of key members of the team is a major threat to us.”

Seriously? If you don’t know what’s going on in the outside world, you won’t be able to add the value your organization needs you to add.

Here’s How:

Have your team make a list of as many trends as possible in the following categories. Don’t stop to worry if the trends are relevant or not, just go for quantity—shoot for a list of 150-200 trends.

1. Social Trends: What is happening in the world? Think social media, the rise of the BRIC economies, the obesity crisis, the growing income gap, and so on. Social trends create opportunities and threats for organizations, whether they are for profit, not-for-profit, or public sector.

2. Industry Trends: What is happening in your industry? Is the market consolidating into a few mammoth players? Is regulation changing how businesses operate? Are the lines between traditional industries blurring, like in the computer hardware and software worlds? You need to be aware of what’s going on with your competitors.

3. Consumer Trends: How are your customers’ needs changing?  Are people buying differently than they used to? What are the most important value drivers for customers? Have they changed?

4. Political & Economic Trends: How is government affecting your organization? How is the regulatory environment changing? How are currencies fluctuating? How easy is it to raise capital in your industry or your region?

5. Technological Trends: What is now (or will soon be) technologically possible? How have new technologies made things possible that weren’t before? How is technology fueling innovation? How is it increasing efficiency? Whatever technology means in your world, from fracking in natural gas extraction to eye-tracking sensors in computer hardware, your team needs to know what’s new.

6. Internal Trends: If your organization is part of a larger one, how are trends at the parent organization affecting you? What is the CEO focused on? Which enterprise-wide initiatives are you expected to take part in?

Documenting these trends will spark dozens of ideas for how your team can add more value for your organization. Repeat this exercise at least once a year to stay up to date on the world around you.

In the next post, I’ll explain Step 2: Aligning to Your Company Strategy.